Music in Glauber Rocha's films

by Graham Bruce

from Jump Cut, no. 22, May 1980, pp. 15-18
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1980, 2005

"Brazil is a musical country and I think of cinema as musical montage with pauses and musical spaces." [1]

What is implied in Rocha's comment is not merely the large part played by music in his films, quantitatively speaking, but more importantly its use as a vital element in the structuring of the film. Influenced in many other ways by Bertolt Brecht, Glauber Rocha is certainly at one with him in his views on the function of music in drama and film. For Brecht, music for the drama must:

"… strongly resist the smooth incorporation which is generally expected of it and turns it into an unthinking slavery. Music does not accompany except in the form of comment. It cannot simply express itself by discharging the emotions with which the incidents of the play have filled it." [2]

Together with Brecht, Eisler and the younger Godard, Rocha is interested in music as a vital, purposeful element in a film, not as something which simply reduces and reinforces what the image tells us. I will attempt to show how Rocha has used music as a means both of structuring sequences and of commenting on the images which comprise these sequences.


The part music will play in Rocha's films is clearly seen in his first film, BARRAVENTO (1961). That music here plays a greater part, quantitatively, than dialogue can, of course, be attributed to the low budget for the film. Yet acquaintance with the later films and numerous indications in this film suggest that it was an aesthetic as much as an economic decision. The music is used in a variety of ways, but especially to comment on and extend the meaning of the image. In the first half-hour of the film, it completely dominates the film's structure.

The long, aerial track over the sea establishes the source of livelihood of these coastal dwellers of the northeast. But the sound track, a candomble song, tells us how strongly their fishing activities are dominated by the Afro-Brazilian religious rites of the candomble. It hints at what image and dialogue will later make clear: their catch is regarded as the bountiful gift of Iemanja, a sea goddess propitiated by the dedication of one of their number, Aruan, as her chaste "husband." The first song is a typical call and response candomble chorus. It's a relatively unchanged choral response to an improvised lead phrase from a singer employing a very nasal tone, the accompanying drums entering only when the rhythm has been established by the singers. It is followed by an unaccompanied one in much freer rhythm. The instrument pictured in the graphics for the credits, the berimbau, now takes over the accompaniment and the female voices change to a male call-and-response chorus as the fishermen are seen at their work, the net linking them like a chain in silhouette against the sky.

A solo unaccompanied song introduces a solitary figure on a rock: it is Firmino, come as the savior of this tradition-ridden community, dedicated to releasing these people from a passive acceptance of an existence determined by the favor of its cult gods. This figure would convert them to an active struggle for their livelihood, especially against the exploitative owners of the fishing net who extract ninety percent of the catch as payment. He is given no dialogue in this brief shot. The berimbau and the male chorus return us to the fishermen, and then a close shot of them is accompanied by a call-and-response song with a lively, incisive rhythm on the drums. The latter indicates the functional nature of their song — it provides a work impetus. But the words remind us of their enslavement, expressing gratitude for the sea's gift of the fish.

The images which follow — the fish in close-up, the long net spread out between the stakes in a snaking diagonal across the sand, Firmino against the lighthouse watching the fishermen — are all united by a chorus now combining male lead singer with female chorus, giving way to the odd sounds of the cuica, whose strange whooping sounds are soon imitated by the male voices. Only at this point is the music silent for a series of dialogue scenes establishing the relationships between the characters. Firmino taunts the fishermen with their subservient status and confronts Aruan who advises adherence to the old ways — a close-up scene which Rocha soon abandons for a long shot of the continuing argument enlivened by a candomble song. This persists as Firmino speaks with Cota, a future instrument in the demystification of Aruan.

A scene introducing Mama, unhappy that her guardian Vincente is going out to sea, then promised initiation into the Macumba rites of Mae Dada, changes to a long samba scene dominated entirely by the music. The people gather in a circle for the liberating yet superbly controlled eurythmics of the samba dance. Drum and tambourine beat out a lively rhythm, this time preceding the call-and-response chorus. The conflict between Firmino and Aruan, first established verbally, is now developed musically and choreographically. Berimbau and tambourine beat out a rhythm and as Firmino and Aruan perform the capoeira, their legs fly out to attack in accordance with the beat of the music.

The principles established in these opening sequences govern the rest of the film. A whole battery of drums of contrasting timbres and conflicting rhythms unites the intercut scenes of the finest sequence of the film. Mae Dada's rituals are seen progressing from sacred dances to the killing of a chicken and the induction of an initiate into the daughters of the saint, the mediators between the fishermen and the gods. These rituals are intercut with the meeting and subsequent lovemaking of Cota and Aruan on the beach — an action engineered by Firmino to discredit these same religious practices initially by revealing the chaste husband of lemanja as subject to the ordinary lusts of the flesh. The drums provide the rhythm for the increasing cutting pace of the alternate syntagma, ending at a climactic point of the lovemaking allied to a shot of chicken feathers spilling upon the shaven initiate's face.

It is a solo unaccompanied song which provides the high point of the scene between Firmino and Cota as he sings, "Nobody sees my suffering! I have my diploma in the subject, suffering." And it is another unaccompanied song which provides the film's ending. Convinced by the events set in action by Firmino that "one fishes with a net, not with prayers" and believing "…only in reality," Aruan sings, "I'm going to Bahia to see if there is money there! If there isn't money, at least nobody dies from hunger." The shot of Aruan, solitary against an arch, separate from the group, recalls the first shot of Firmino, the camera then panning finally across sea and land in a variation of the opening shot of the film.


LAND IN ANGUISH, made in 1967, doubles the opportunities for musical comment as a result of its structure: the film takes the form of the recollections of a dying man, a lengthy aria interrupting a very operatic death. Paulo, machine gun raised, convinced at last that armed struggle is the only political solution, recalls the path which led to his decision, a path weaving between the conservative Diaz and the populist Vieira supported by his lover Sara. Consequently, the film offers the opportunity for comment not only by Paulo on the images of his recollection, but also by the director upon his character. Rocha's attitude towards his hero being "at times critical, at times passionately involved." [3]

Now to exploit all the possibilities for aural comment in such a situation would probably result in an obscure complexity. Nevertheless, the outstanding feature of the use of music in LAND IN ANGUISH is the way in which its implications are employed to comment upon the characters and situations, and to compare the political styles of the men whom Paulo hovers between.

The scenes with Diaz, for example, take place in his palace, in actuality the marbled Italianate spendor of the staircase and foyer of Rio's superb opera house. Appropriately then, the music consists of operatic excerpts from Carlos Gomes and Verdi. But the sound track is more than merely an esoteric reference by the director for those in the know. The Gomes excerpts immediately characterize Diaz in the third scene of the film as he dances with Silvia. Later scenes reveal the full extent of Diaz' contempt for the people, his concept of political leadership as the God-given quality of the elect; his fanatical elitism subsumes a history of colonialist oppression. Yet the music already provides these implications. Gomes, though a Brazilian, was a thoroughly Italianized composer, much of his life and most of his successes — including the opera O Guarani, excerpts from which are heard here — taking place in Italy. As an imperialist he fell from favor after the fall of Don Pedro in 1889. The writer in Groves Musical Dictionary notes with tight-lipped understatement, Gomes "is held in great esteem in his native country but," he adds, "no claims are made for him as a musical representative of nationalist tendencies." [4]

The use of Verdi's music in the scene where Diaz reproaches Paulo for his betrayal in making the T.V. documentary is even more resonant, both in the implications of the composers music in general and of this music from Otello in particular. When Verdi's second opera I Lombardi, concerning the expulsion of the infidels from the holy land, was interpreted as a veiled reference to ridding a disunified Italy of the Austrian yoke, Verdi found himself a revolutionary rallying point and the cry "Viva VERDI" (Viva Vittorio Emmanuele Rey d'Italia.) was used as a catch phrase by the insurgents. These implications are put to superb use in the opening scene of Visconti's SENSO. Here, they suggest Paulo, the committed revolutionary as he looks back at a painful episode in the building of that commitment.

The use of the Otello music provides opportunity for even more specific comment. The explosion of the opening storm music and Otello's "Esultate!" as he announces the victory of the Venetians over the Turks accompanies the argument and fight between Diaz and Paulo; the chorus "Vittoria, Sterminio!" rejoicing in the defeat climaxes as Paulo is on top of Diaz on the marble staircase. The music suggests the magnitude of the struggle as it appears to Paulo, this exorcism of his political past; at the same time it is Rocha's ironic comment on his own autobiographical hero, the grandeur of the music mocking the petty struggle on the staircase. In addition, Iago's triumph over the epileptic Otello is recalled here, while Paulo's recollections of Diaz as the devil tempting him with power and money reflects Iago's mephistophelian manipulation of the Moor.

Whereas the elitist style of Diaz has its musical counterpart in opera, the populist style of Vieira is ironically related to the people by the use of the samba and the candomble songs, from whose Afro-Brazilian drumming rhythms the samba developed. The opening shot of the film, a long aerial track over sea, mountains and forest, is accompanied by a candomble call-and-response song with drum accompaniment, thus clearly establishing this music as the authentic voice of Brazil and its peoples. This equation is reinforced by the use of the candomble songs as the Indians greet the conquistadors in the pageant recalling the landing of the Portuguese. In this vision associating Diaz with the conquistadors and forming the first part of Paulo's meditation, the music is deliberately anachronistic, linking Indian and African into one.

Having established the popular reference point for this music, Rocha uses the samba rhythm to comment on Vieira's actions. A lively little samba-style piece for two flutes questions that character's sincerity as he explains to Paulo, newly introduced to Vieira by Sara, how his political career was a hard struggle from the bottom of the ladder, fighting corruption and embracing noble causes. The scene fuses with a succession of scenes showing his campaign for election as governor. The flute music develops into a mocking tuba, and finally a whole brass band, while the increasing flamboyance of his campaign style is suggested by the addition of cigar and large white Cadillac. The samba rhythm dominates the whole of the scene where Vieira encounters the people, an ironic comment on his pretense of representing the people, underlined by the senator's incongruous dance. The music of the people is soon significantly silenced at this meeting just as the voice of the people is silenced first by vilification and communist propaganda, and secondly by death.

The erratic progress of the disillusioned intellectual from right to left has its own music, too. Paulo's dilemma, torn as he is by conflicting loyalties, is charted via the music of Villa-Lobos. Brazil's greatest musical figure first learned music from the popular street musicians of Rio and spent much of his young life touring the north, south, and even Mato Grosso as an itinerant musician, absorbing an enormous amount of Afro-Brazilian and mestico music. Later as Superintendent of Musical Education he struck a blow for a popularly based form of musical education by writing a manual for teachers based on folk themes, and later he even organized a plebiscite to ascertain the wishes of the people in regard to the future of Brazilian musical education. The truly national character of his musical temperament, then, is hardly in doubt. Yet as for any great musician, the European musical tradition was a very strong influence. The combination and fruitful conflict of these European and national currents is best seen in the Bachianas Brasileiras, a series of works inspired by the form of Bach's music but entirely Brazilian in their melodic and emotional qualities. The separate movements of these have both a European and a Brazilian name. It is these pieces which Rocha uses here in relation to Paulo.

The use of the particular pieces is the closest Rocha comes to music which "accompanies" the dramatic action in the form of appropriate emotional tone. The highly dramatic "Preludio" from the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 3 for piano and orchestra underscores the end of the opening sequence of the film leading to the rapid montage which comprises his dying vision of Diaz' ascent to power. A quieter moment for orchestra alone from the "Fantasia" of the same piece accompanies Paulo's disillusion as he discusses with Sara Vieira's refusal to act upon the killing of Felicio and she suggests, "Politics and poetry are too much for one person." The most Bach-like of all these, the "Fugue" from the Bachianas No. 9, cuts into the samba during the "Meeting of a Leader with the People," as closer shots of Paulo register both his disgust with Vieira and Sara's attempts to console him. The intertwining parts of the fugue admirably complement the choreographed movements of the camera and of the characters as they circle each other.

In addition, a plaintive, soft cello piece underscores Paulo's most acute moments of disillusion: in the opening sequence as he confronts Vieira over his resignation, and when he leaves Diaz' palace, abandoning both protector and mistress, and finally to register his unspoken disgust with Vieira on the patio following the popular meeting. Used then in a fairly conventional accompanying style, the Villa-Lobos music with its European-Brazilian tensions additionally suggests the dilemma of a man torn between elitist and popular politics.

A film denouncing populism and advocating armed revolution could hardly embody its critique within a populist film style. Above all, Rocha sought to avoid a film where "… everything was worked out to minimize any conflict for the spectator." Such films, for Rocha, "grind everything down to its basic ingredients, blend in the ideology and give the whole thing to the public predigested." [5] The music plays its part in the "impurely aggressive" [6] style of the film. Rocha avoids musical bridges forming smooth transitions from one scene to another, and favors sudden jolts of sound. For example, the music of the scene where Paulo hurls Felicio to the ground is quite arbitrarily cut mid-phrase with the change to Paulo's apartment, while the silence of the latter scene is suddenly rent by a howl of anger and mourning with a sudden cut to the scene of the peasants around Felicio's body. Similarly, a drum roll or a cymbal stroke will emphasize a cut. Within scenes, too, music abruptly stops or starts as in Vieira's popular meeting, or percussion effects arbitrarily punctuate the action as in the scene on the roof terrace of Fuentes' television building.


ANTONIO DAS MORTES, Rocha's next film in 1969, transplants the most significant character from BLACK GOD, WHITE DEVIL, which immediately preceded LAND IN ANGUISH, and thus the two invite consideration together.

BLACK GOD, WHITE DEVIL is Rocha's most powerful film primarily because of its simple, balanced structure. This structure is determined basically by its music, in particular a ballad song recounting the fortunes of the sertao (arid plains region) dweller, Manuel and Rosa. Composed by Sergio Ricardo in the style of popular cordel literature, the ballad functions like a Greek chorus, foretelling and commenting upon the action contained in the images, and in addition, acts as a Brechtian distanciation device. The action tells of a cowhand, Manuel, who rebels against his exploitation by killing the landowner, Morais; and then with his wife, Rosa, joins first the religious beato (mystic), Sebastiao, and then the cangaceiro (bandit), Corisco, in the hope of acquiring a better life. The characters here are more fully developed psychologically than those of the later ANTONIO DAS MORTES, but they are nonetheless basically emblematic. They resume the history of an oppressed people seeking deliverance, appealing now to beato, now to bandit. Rocha's view here is that such deliverance lies not in religious ecstasy nor in disorganized violence, but in a rational decision for meaningful action and conscious struggle. This is the function of the jagunco (mercenary) Antonio das Mortes, in the film: killer of both beato and cangaceiro, he provides Manuel with freedom and the opportunity to make such a decision.

This representative function in the characters is suggested by the ballad commentary. Blindness is the traditional state of the visionary seer, and the tale of the blind ballad singer, Julio, here gives a timeless, epic quality to the story. The two encounters — with Sebastiao and Corisco — are introduced by almost identical lyrics, suggesting that both offer similarly ineffective forms of revolt:

"Then one day for good or evil,
The devilish Corisco
The saintly Sebastiao
entered their lives."

Just as Sebastiao embodies the tradition of Sebastianism and religious mystics such as Conselheiro and Padre Cicero, who offered hope to the oppressed poor, so Corisco incorporates all cangaceiros who offered sporadic violent revolt. Specifically, Corisco sees himself as the descendent and avenger of Lampiao, a quiet portion of the ballad suggesting Corisco's meditation on the latter's death: "Lampiao died in the middle of the night! Maria Bonita at break of day." Furthermore, Corisco's fight is linked with that of St. George with the dragon, another part of the ballad speaking of him as "Corisco of St. George."

The ballad, in fact, functions in many ways within its use as an overall structuring device. It can provide a change of tone: the plaintive tune and sparse guitar accompaniment as the singer tells of Manuel and Rosa in the sertao working the land with their hands changes later to a brisk section as Sebastiao is described, suggesting new hope; later there is another change to a dirge as Manuel closes the eyes of his mother killed in the struggle with Morais' men. It can take the place of dialogue: in the final, wordless duel between Corisco and Antonio, the balladist sings,

"Surrender, Corisco!
No, I wont surrender!
I'm not a bird to live in a prison."

It can direct the camera movement as in the introduction of Corisco: as the balladist sings, "The devilish Corisco entered their lives," the camera pans right to frame Corisco as if the words had directed its attention. Finally, it can suggest the significance of the whole, most obviously, of course, towards the end of the film as the singer concludes,

"So I've told my story
Made of truth and imagination,
And I hope you've all drawn your lesson from it,
That a world so badly divided
Is headed the wrong way
And that the earth is man's
And not God's or the devil's."

Complementing the ballad song and the solo voice and guitar of Sergio Ricardo are the orchestral and choral pieces of Villa-Lobos. Here, Rocha uses the Bachianas Brasileiras Numbers 2, 4 and 5 — pieces which have their root in the sertanejo region — as well as the Magnificat Alleluia for chorus and orchestra. These are employed not merely as accompaniment but also to comment upon image and action. For example, the opening music, the "cancao do sertao" (the aria movement from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2) establishes underneath the credits the setting of the tale before the film proper starts and the ballad begins, "Manuel and Rosa lived in the sertao." The dramatic opening of this cancao later erupts in a burst of sound as the sertanejo's name is changed by Corisco to Satanas. The dansa movement from the same piece provides a sardonic comment on the fight to the death between Manuel and Morais, while at the same time its conflicting rhythms are appropriate to those of the struggle. And as Antonio tells the blind singer that the death of Corisco, like that of Sebastiao, is necessary because soon there will come a great war without the superstition of god or devil, the "cancao do sertanejo" (the "Prelude" of the Bachianas No. 2) marks his journey towards Corisco: it is this abandonment of god and devil in order to fight one's own war which must be the real sertao-dwellers' song and which Antonio's action will make Manuel see.

Antonio is introduced by means of the dansa from the Bachianas No. 4. A quick montage of shots of a cloaked and hatted figure firing a gun establishes the idea of jagunco, while the gay music makes its ironic comment (the pieces subtitle is "Mindinho" or "Little"), the gun shots falling on its strong beats. The ballad song then takes over to explain that it is "Antonio das Mortes, killer of cangaceiros. Another section of this fourth Bachianas, the aria, is used as Rosa follows Manuel climbing the Monte Santo to Sabastiao. The scene gains in significance if we are aware that this Bachianas is based on a famous song from Paraiba, "Oh sister, let me go … Oh sister, I'm leaving alone! Oh sister let me go to the sertao of pianco." The most famous of the Bachianas is the fifth, a song of the freedom of love, its lyrics and theme connected with the sertao. The serenely beautiful opening movement where the soprano voice soars above the pizzicato cellos in a wordless cantilena is used as Corisco holds his wife in a long, final embrace before they face Antonio. It is one of the film's few tender moments.

Villa-Lobos Magnificat Alleluia provides a number of occasions for ironic image/sound counterpoint, usually in relation to the messianic cult of Sebastiao. The painfully slow pan up the path to the Monte Santo and the initial statement of the loud hymn of praise on the sound track is both the subjective, awe-stricken viewpoint of the followers of the cult and also the filmmaker's comment on their mistaken zeal. The piece occurs again triumphantly at the end of the film over shots of the sea and of Manuel running alone. Music and seascape recall Sebastiao's promise to make a sea of the sertao; yet the image of the free-running Manuel shows that it is only the man freed from god and devil who will do this and who is worthy of an "alleluia." God and devil are furthermore equated by means of the Magnificat Alleluia: it bursts forth suddenly as Manuel castrates a man at Corisco's bidding. We recall the initial association of the music with Sebastiao, the man who bid Manuel kill his son as a similar test of loyalty. Finally, this same castration scene contains the most sardonic use of music in the film. Corisco disrupts a wedding feast, rapes the bride and forces Manuel to geld the groom. This gruesome interaction of the four is accompanied by a Villa-Lobos quartet, the allegro non troppo movement from the No. 11.


ANTONIO DAS MORTES employs music in a similar way to BLACK GOD, WHITE DEVIL, but with one important exception: an overarching structure such as the blind singer's ballad is missing, and the second film does not have quite the impact of the first. But it is in any case a very different film, reflecting the five years of tightening military control in Brazil since the 1964 coup. Now beato, cangaceiro and jagunco are all seen as possible revolutionary forces together with priest, intellectual and people.

The most poignant moment of the film is a song. A long close-up dwells on the magnificently intense face of the wounded Coirana as he sings a ballad recounting his life: journeying south in a pau-de-arara in the hope of making money; working as a slave in the Mato Grosso; encountering the religious mystic settlement at Joazeiro; and retreating finally to the sertao. Coirana, as revealed in his story, is not only the spiritual descendant of Corisco, as he mentions in the last line, but a summation of the history of the oppressed nordeste. The beato's lament upon Coirana, "Ogum is dead," reinforces this. Ogum is the candomble equivalent of St. George, the warrior saint with whom Coirana, like Corisco, links himself in the fight with Antonio, the dragon of evil. Towards its end, Coirana's ballad changes its point of view. The first person narrator changes to a third person who speaks of meeting Coirana and giving him his name. At the change, the camera viewpoint changes also from the close shot of Coirana to a long shot of him dying on the rock while beside him, Black Antao continues the song. The voice, however, does not change; nor does the guitar accompaniment give way to the log drum Antao is playing. In the same way as he takes over Coirana's song, Antao also takes over his role as St. George, killing the real dragon of evil, Horacio, with lance and white charger like the saint of the triptich under the opening credits.

Rocha's emblematic and structural approach to music can be seen again in a scene between Laura and Matos. The two sing Pixinguinha's Carinhoso, whose saccharine melody and debased, romantic lyrics epitomize bourgeois escapist entertainment. And indeed, Laura, significantly a prostitute from Bahia and clad throughout in diaphanous lilac, represents the middle class, allying itself now with the landed class (Horacio), now with the civil and political power (Matos) as seems expedient, and ready to brutally stab one or the other. The title ("full of tenderness") and the references in the lyrics to "kindness" and "sincerity" also provide an ironic commentary on the action as Matos loads Laura with a succession of pieces of jewelry. The music dictates the structure of the scene and provides its "dialogue," a parody perhaps of Jacques Demy and Michel Legrand's UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG.

Church and intellectual and their potential contributory role in armed revolution are also embodied in characters in the film. The teacher, for example, progresses from a fog of drunkenness and hilarity to a state where he sees clearly, the latter portrayed with simple directness as the teacher opens his eyes wide and looks straight at the camera. Songs chart the course of this development. In the scene where he indulges in a political discussion with Matos over a game of billiards, he sings a song-samba. The contrast between the melancholy words ("How I've wept, how my soul has been tormented") and the gay rhythm suggests the teacher's inner conflict, the turmoil which lies beneath the mocking banter and raised glass. Rocha also, it seems, regards the samba as "violent and anarchistic" [7] and presumably intended its use here to suggest where the teacher's eventual allegiance will lie. Towards the end of the film when Antonio halts the teacher's flight and brings him back to commitment, a bright pop tune erupts upon the sound track. Its jaunty rhythm and the fatuous moral tone of its lyrics ("Get up, shake off the dust, start climbing up the path… a strong man doesn't stay down") are deliberately at odds with the painful progress of the two up the hill.

The non-realistic, emblematic nature of the characters of the film as a whole leads the critic Ernest Callenbach [8] to interpret Antonio as representing the army, causing a series of miscalculations both in Callenbach's own conclusions and later those of Hans Proppe and Susan Tarr. [9] The character is emblematic but quite simply of the tradition of jaguncos, hired killers with a conscience who, like Antonio, changed sides according to where right seemed to reside. The conjunction of image and reprise of the relevant part of Sergio Ricardo's ballad makes this clear. As the song describes the killer of cangaceiros who "prays in ten churches but has no patron saint," the camera pans across the dusty land in a wide sweep in extreme long shot. Certainly Antonio is there in the shot, but he is a tiny figure almost invisible in the vast landscape.

The cordel or ballad poem which Ricardo's song imitates is a typical musical form of the northeast heard from itinerant singers who do not hesitate to unite traditional and contemporary elements. They are often available in printed pamphlet form, illustrated by woodcuts. Rocha grew up in an area where these were popular. It is a cordel on one of the most popular subjects, the cangaceiro Lampiao, which Rocha uses to provide a structure for the last sequences of the film.

From the moment that Antonio places Coirana's body in an upright, cruciform position in the tree, the Lampiao cordel dominates the sound track, telling of the revolution he caused in hell, burning Satan's empire and setting free the oppressed. It binds together the scenes of those who take over their own Satanic oppressor, Horacio.

During the first part of the cordel relating how Lampiao argued with the gatekeeper, threatening to wreck the place if refused entry, the teacher commits himself to Coirana's cause, solemnly taking both gun and sword from the body spread-eagled on the tree trunk. The ballad is silent for the most solemn, ritaulistic moment as all those who will resurrect the armed struggle assemble: the priest goes to minister to Coirana in the background while in the middle ground, Antonio, Santa and Antao stand in a ceremonial line as Santa slowly hands rifle and hat to Antonio, who walks away to join the priest.

As the cordel resumes, there is a long shot of Mate Vaca's men carrying Horacio in a litter, a nice visual summation of the extent to which the power of the landowning class rests upon armed banditry. The shot is an extraordinarily lengthy one, continuing long after its point has registered and seems designed to allow us to savor the words of the cordel and their relation to the image: Satan, the singer tells, is upset that Lampiao's reputation as a hardworking thief will bring down the value of his property, so he gives orders to "get the black folks together" to resist Lampiao's entry.

Another silence takes place for the confrontation between Mate Vaca's men and the combined forces of Antonio and priest, but as Antonio challenges Mata Vaca to single-handed combat, another cordel strikes up, relating the story of the battle between the two. The words, telling of events in the past, have a distancing effect upon these images of the present before us. The Lampiao ballad, however, cuts off the other, before being itself submerged in an avalanche of gun fire, as the duel gives way to a Peckinpah-style gun battle in which Mate Vaca's men are slaughtered.

As Antao completes the process by killing Horacio, the cordel continues once more, detailing Lampiao's destruction of hell. The singer describes the latter in terms of a vast capitalist enterprise with stores, time clock, book of rules, and a depressed work force. In the images, the priest ritually leads the horse carrying Antao and Santa around Antonio. Image and cordel are united by the recollection that Coirana, whose heirs are Antonio and Antao, regarded himself as the spiritual heir of Lampiao. The final images however are Antonio's alone, and the jaunty Lampiao cordel gives way to the sadder cordel of the man with no patron saint.

The third scene of the film introduces the beatos dancing around Coirana, their colorful costumes, in tropicalist splendor, interspersed with studded leather cangaceiro hats. The song, accompanied by a frenzied drum rhythm, gives way to a batucada, a piece for a variety of percussion instruments — here drums, makeshift cymbals, gongs and bells — as Santa encircles Coirana in a ritualistic movement, followed by silence for Coirana's pronouncements in verse.

The second beatos scene (interrupted by the billiard games scene) shows the dancers retreated to a rocky hillside, gradually revealed by a lengthy zoom out. Their song honoring St. Cosme and St. Damian and asking, "What has happened to Jau and Orixa?" (two Macumba saints) gives way this time to a hummed chorus as Coirana pronounces it is time to descend upon the town as he has sworn. He is opposed by Antao, as yet innocent of his future active role, and at this point advocating passivity in a manner recalling a slave of the Brazilian Empire.

For the scene in the square when the beatos have descended from the rock, the Cosme and Damian song activates the dance, the words suggesting that a period of renewal is about to come: "Cosme gives the medicine, Damian is the healer! Cosme claps his hands, Damian beats the drum." The song is cut arbitrarily for the desafio (ritual of challenge): as Antonio and Coirana face each other, the alternate lines of their challenge are spoken in rhymed verse. There is another sudden cut, and the beatos' song begins as the two face each other within the length of Antonio's pink scarf, its ends held between the teeth of each. As the beatos sing "Oxosse is king," associating Coirana, the anticipated victor, with the macumba god of the hunt, the clangs of the choreographed sword fight fall on the strong beat of the song until the final frenzied thrusts and wounding of Coirana. The song continues relentlessly as Laura, priest, and professor go to Coirana's aid and the three carry him up to the Alvorada Bar, while Horacio makes a conciliatory gesture of a food handout from the store.

Very different from the macumba songs is the Marlos Nobre music, which links the scene comprising the second climax of the film — the scene over Matos' body, the slaughter of the beatos, and the carrying of Coirana's body to the sertao by Antonio. Scored for small ensemble including piano, contralto and soprano voices used as instruments, and electronic tape, the music has a bizarre nightmarish quality vaguely reminiscent of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. It begins as the teacher drags Matos' body out to open ground followed by Laura, her lilac dress blotched with red patches of blood, and carrying a bouquet of bright red and yellow paper flowers. The priest attempts to recall the teacher with the news that Horacio has ordered the death of the beatos, but he remains, fascinated by Laura as she embraces the dead Matos, finally rolling upon the body with her in a desperate embrace. It is a scene reflecting the tropicalist movement in its deliberate "bad taste" — the bizarre excesses of the action, the garish mixture of colors, and the cacophony of the music. The music continues during the two inserts of Mata Vaca's men rejoicing as they prepare to slaughter the beatos seen on the hill behind them. It provides a weird counterpoint to the beatos' songs and the cheers of the killers.

The vocal parts of the music dominate the last shots of the sequence: the slaughter of the beatos, Antonio embracing Coiranas body which he has carried to the sertao, and Mata Vaca laughing at Santa and Antao, the sole survivors, standing amid the strewn corpses of the beatos:. During this last shot, the singers perform great vocal leaps like shrieks of lamentation, the contralto intoning the first words to be used in the music, "Have pity on those who have invaded our land." The sequence ends with Mata Vaca backing away in awe of Santa's intense gaze.

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Throughout these four films, Rocha has shown a consistent attitude towards the function of music in film. While he does not despise the use of music as accompaniment, he requires it to perform other tasks as well — to structure, comment on and extend the meaning of image, scene, and even whole film; and to expand the reference of the film's protagonists beyond individual psychological studies to emblematic summaries of Brazil's history.


1. Interview with Glauber Rocha, Image et son, No. 236 (Feb. 1970).

2. John Willet (ed.), Brecht on Theatre, New York: Hill and Wang, 1964, p. 203.

3. Interview with Glauber Rocha, Les Lettres françaises.

4. Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. III, p. 707.

5. Glauber Rocha, "Cinema Nôvo: The Adventure of Creation," a paper given at Pesaro, Italy, 1968.

6. Ibid.

7. Image et son, No. 236 (Feb. 1970).

8. Ernest Callenbach, "Comparative Anatomy of Folk-Myth Films: ROBIN HOOD and ANTONIO DAS MORTES," Film Quarterly, Winter 69/70, p. 45.

9. Hans Proppe and Susan Tarr, "Cinema Nôvo: Pitfalls of Cultural Nationalism," JUMP CUT 10/11.